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Year in Yosemite: Animal Kingdom - Explore

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Year in Yosemite: Animal Kingdom

Photo credit: Chad Andrews

Rumor has it that there are 230 species of birds and 80 species of mammals in Yosemite National Park. After living here for 18-plus months, I'd like to ask, "Exactly where?" Because while it's true that on any given day, I might see mule deer, gray squirrels, and an occasional coyote, everything else seems to have headed for the hills — or at least that's the theory. Naturalists working in the park claim that in a space the size of Rhode Island, the animals can't be bothered hanging out around people. According to them, except for black bears looking for easy pickings, most of the animals live in remote areas where there's little chance of human interaction. To which I say, "Hogwash." In the past 18 months, I've seen plenty of wildlife. It's just that none of it has been inside the park.

Ask me where you should go for the best animal viewing and I'd send you off to hang out on Highway 41. Going into Fresno about once a week, I've become fairly obsessed with the red-tailed hawks that seem to sit on every lamppost heading out of town. The farmland may be disappearing but their presence — with their nests stuck onto telephone poles just yards from the road — seems to say, this is still our country.

Same for the golden eagles. The first one I saw was a fledgling hiding in the grass not ten feet from my car. The first one my husband saw was on his way down to Oakhurst from the park. As most readers know, Yosemite is not my husband's favorite place. That he's here is a testament to his devotion to his daughter and our love for her park school. But one day, when his feelings of isolation were at their height, a golden eagle flew along with him as he made his way down the hill, holding itself at window height for about 100 yards. I, at least, took this as a cosmic sign that we were in the right place.

Photo credit: Charles Phillips

On that same road we've seen beaver, deer, and bobcats. Then a few weeks ago, right outside of Oakhurst, I hit the animal jackpot. A huge, enormous bear ran across the road directly in front of my car. I was far enough away to miss it, but close enough to gasp with delight and grab the arm of my passenger while yelling, "A bear. A bear. My first bear."

Now I know there are bears in Yosemite. I know this because when you travel the roads of the park, there are yellow signs painted with red bears and the message "Speed kills." I doubt many visitors to Yosemite know these signs mark the place where a bear was taken out by a car. The signs appear fairly frequently along the roadside, so while I haven't actually seen a bear in the park, I know they are here, along with mountain lions, which many of my neighbors have seen right in my neighborhood. So far, no viewings for me. I'm hoping to keep it that way (unless I'm in the safety of a car).

When Galen Clark became the first guardian of Yosemite in the 1860s, he wrote extensively about the abundance of game — beavers, raccoons, opossum, deer, bear, fox, coyote, mountain lions, and big horn sheep. I've seen several of these species in the backyard of my home in Los Angeles, but never here. To see them in the Sierras, take my advice: stake out a viewing spot along Highway 41.

-- Jamie Simons

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city. (Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)

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